The Little Rock Zoo

.The Little Rock Zoo needs to step up and care for the animals better! Please read the several artciles here with deaths, sickness and a bald chimp!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Exodus Of Animals From Zoo Northwest Florida

Although the exodus of animals from the shuttered Zoo Northwest Florida has begun, diehard zoo fans hope to convince local leaders of the value the facility brings to the community.
Animal Park Inc. partner Bob Switzer, a zoo owner, says he has requested bids from licensed zoos and collectors for all of the Gulf Breeze facility's animals. He hopes to recoup the partners' $4.5 million investment in the zoo by year's end or sooner.

The 25-year-old, 50-acre zoo closed in August after local governments refused to give it a second year of funding. It had been in financial trouble since Hurricane Ivan left it with uninsured damages in 2004.

While the zoo was run by the nonprofit Gulf Coast Zoological Society, the land and debt is held by Animal Park Inc.

Facilities that have loaned the zoo animals have been asked to pick them up, Switzer said. He's also actively looking for homes for the rest of the animals.

"We are in the process right now of getting bids for all of the animals," he said. "We're also talking to people who might want to buy all of the animals at one time, as a collection. Then we're talking to a third group of people who want to keep the zoo here."

Seeking input

Chief among that third group is the Zoological Society, which has launched an online petition drive to persuade local leaders to fund the zoo. The survey asks respondents if they favor reopening the zoo, and, if so, what source of funding they would prefer.

Options include allocations from county recreation funds, increased property taxes, permanent annual commitments from the tourist development councils in Santa Rosa, Escambia and Okaloosa counties, establishing a special taxing district or allocations from county animal services budgets.

The survey also allows respondents to click "other" and write in their own suggestions.

John Kuder, president of the society, said the surveys were tabulated Saturday. He hopes to present the results to the county commissions in Santa Rosa, Escambia and Okaloosa counties sometime in October.
County commissions in Santa Rosa and Escambia declined to give allocations to the zoo in budget-setting processes that preceded the zoo's closure. The zoo didn't approach the Okaloosa County Commission.
"I think there were some people on the Escambia and Santa Rosa commissions who really weren't sure we really needed the money. I don't think they really believed we wouldn't be able to do something to keep the zoo open," said Kuder, a retired circuit court judge and Gulf Breeze resident. "What we're saying now is, 'This is it. This is the end of the road.' The park is going to be sold, and the animals are going to be sold."

The land won't be sold until the disposition of the animals is settled, Switzer said. If someone wants the entire collection of animals, the property could be part of the deal.

While the society would like to see the zoo continue as it is, with Animal Park Inc. as the owners, Kuder said the survey could also serve as a gauge of the public interest for new owners should they decide to reopen the zoo.

'Priceless experience'

Already, the baby orangutan born at the zoo in 2005 and its mother have left the zoo, Switzer said. Some alligators and bats are gone, too.

"We looked for the animals that had very little value but had a lot of costs in feeding and caring," he said.

"Bats and alligators don't bring people in the door. Alligators are expensive because they take real meat to feed, and bats take real fruit."

The orangutans were sent to a private facility in Connecticut as a pair because the baby had been put up as collateral for a loan, Switzer said. The mother was sold to that facility to keep the two together.

Denise Haywald, 28, of Navarre took her two children, ages 3½ years and 8 months, to the zoo on a nearly weekly basis. She had been out of town and only recently learned of the zoo's closure.

"The zoo is an invaluable, hands-on learning experience for our children and future generations," said Haywald, who was among those waving at cars and holding signs in support of the zoo Tuesday afternoon outside the facility.

"Watching giraffes, lions, monkeys, hippos, tigers and other animals up close and personal is nothing like watching 'Animal Planet' or seeing pictures from 'Zoobooks' or online. This priceless experience encourages the growth and development of our future leaders to take care of the animals and our Earth."


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